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One bright sunny morning last month I had the pleasure of watching four troopers going through their paces during cavalry annual training at the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard (2GHG) here in Newtown. In the line were four dark-colored horses of different breeds, each being groomed by trooper. The most unusual thing about this scene was not that I was watching one of the last and longest-serving cavalry units in the United States go through their paces, but that the troopers were women.
These four women were part of a squad that was having a competition with another squad in a variety of areas that reflected the knowledge and history of the standard operation procedures (SOP) of the US Army and its cavalry unit. SOP horse care hasn’t changed much since the 19th Century. Some techniques were honed in the 20th Century when cavalry horses were the mainstay of the country’s military might. Each trooper had an identical grooming duffle bag placed well behind the horse filled with traditional grooming tools to promote good horsemanship and one or two modern-day conveniences such as my favorite, a Show Sheen spray bottle to detangle a tail filled with burrs and debris from a night in the pasture.
Today’s 21st Century cavalry horses — Custer, Andy, Wrangler, and Chester — were enjoying the basics of grooming. The curry comb to remove mud, shedding hair, and to stimulate circulation. The hard brush to flick away the dislodged dirt off the body, and the soft brush to remove dust, and clean the sensitive areas of the face and legs. All this robust grooming to release coat oils to make the horses shine. Finally, one of the most important tasks of grooming is to lean how to master the use of the hoof pick. The hoof pick is to clean out any debris from inside the bottom of the hooves, because like they say, “No Hoof, No Horse.” My imagination likes to think that some great Cavalryman came up with that term during a morning inspection out West.
Saddle Up for The Drill Ride
After grooming, the captain came along and inspected each horse. Lifting Andy’s profuse mane, for example, to see if there was any dirt on his neck hidden by his long locks. The horses looked very smart and clean, especially Wrangler the Quarter Horse, whose flaxen mane and tail shown brightly against his sleek chestnut coat. And picking up Chester’s massive hoof for exam proved to be a hearty task for any trooper!
Earlier in the morning the troopers were inspected on boots and saddles. Each polished their tall, knee-high black riding boots to a spit shine. And applied saddle soap and brass polish to clean the authentic 1927 McClellan cavalry saddles that the 2GHG state militia until still uses. If you happened to see the Newtown Labor Day parade, the horse guard and those historic saddles were proudly on display. Then the troopers were instructed to saddle up for the drill ride competition.
Each trooper began by folding a large green wool blanket into quarters, like folding a bed sheet, to create a saddle pad. Then each trooper placed the blanket on the horses withers and swiped down across his back and off the hind quarters. They did this three times. It was a way to get the horse ready for the saddle and to remove any last dirt that might get trapped under the blanket and cause an irritation. Historically, these saddle blankets also doubled for a trooper blanket or headrest as they slept under the stars out on the prairie during maneuvers. I was happy to see that these traditional saddles came with modern washable girths!
As troopers mounted up for the drill ride in the paddock, they were being judged on their techniques. They moved the horses into a particular pattern so that when mounting they did not interfere with another horse and rider. There they stood, mounted with halters kept on under the horses’ bridles, and a beautifully tied cavalry knot around the lead rope they kept around their necks. Carrying equipment on the horse to be used at a moment’s notice proves you are always ready.
Visit Living History
The troopers rode into a large grass field at the 2GHG grounds and began their intricate movements at the walk and trot. The captain called out the commands. I was impressed at the team work and the synchronization of the four horses. It’s not easy to ask independent thinking horses to all act in unison for the betterment of the group. Those four troopers did a great job.
Afterward I asked them why they had joined the horse guard. And beyond the obvious answers of “because of the horses” and “who doesn’t love horses” and “I like military protocols,” I found an unexpected treasure.
“It’s a family, we are a tight group, and we have each other’s back,” said one trooper. Another said, “It’s a happy place.” And “It’s a living history that’s alive.”
This living history will be on display at the 2GHG grounds as part of the Western CT K-9 Challenge on October 8. Several cavalry horses will come out for a “Meet & Greet” at 11 am and 1 pm at the barn paddock overlooking the main riding ring. If you want to experience the living history named Andy the Shire or Custer the Mustang or Chester, the largest of the group, come on down. There will also be a treasure hunt for children under the age of 12. If you successfully follow the treasure hunt, among your choice of prizes will be a small stuffed “Chester” cavalry horse or a small stuffed “Saint Michael” police K-9 dog. We hope you join us for a day filled Cars, Colts & Canines!
Lisa Peterson — lifelong equestrian, dog show judge and award-winning podcaster, communications professional and journalist — writes about horses, hounds and history at lisaunleashed.com. Reach her at email@example.com.